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  Three Lives of Thomasina, The The Cat's Pajamas
Year: 1964
Director: Don Chaffey
Stars: Patrick McGoohan, Susan Hampshire, Laurence Naismith, Jean Anderson, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Wilfrid Brambell, Finlay Currie, Vincent Winter, Denis Gilmore, Charles Carson, Ruth Dunning, Ewan Roberts, Oliver Johnson, Francis De Wolff, Elspeth March
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: This is Thomasina the cat (voiced by Elspeth March), and she's here to tell us all about her murder. Don't worry, she's all right now, but as we see she belonged to a little girl, Mary (Karen Dotrice), who lived with her widowed father Andrew (Patrick McGoohan) who was the vet in this Highland Scottish town. Andrew was a man of science, so when, say, young Geordie (Matthew Garber) came to him with an injured frog, he sent him away telling him that nature would be all the help the creature needed. But he was sowing seeds of turning the community against him when he put down an old lady's faithful dog and rumour went round that he was more likely to kill than cure...

After the success of Greyfriars Bobby, Disney were evidently searching around for a similar subject, so the novel by Paul Gallico (best known as author of The Posiedon Adventure) was adapted into this similarly Scottish-set, animal-based tale. This has not stuck in the popular memory as well as Bobby has, but that had a real life story to help it endure, though Thomasina still has its fans and still reappears for television showings. As for the theme, it was not simply be kind to animals, it had more a method of finding the right balance between science and faith in mind, and although its reputation is of being sickly sentimental, the film can be quite harsh in places.

This is thanks to the tough but fair performance of McGoohan, filling the role of the man let down by life on the loss of his wife and finding solace in the material world that is where he puts his faith: that's right, this is a Disney movie with an atheist as one of the main characters. Of course, this being a work from this studio you'll be anticipating a major change of heart in Andrew, but it doesn't quite work out that way as he thankfully fails to turn into a happy-clappy God-botherer, but reaches a more even tempered approach to religion, superstition and how it relates to the world of medicine and you know, that all stuff you can prove exists.

But as I say, there's a happy medium to be gained here, as Andrew's level headed counterpart is Lori MacGregor (Susan Hampshire), who the local children have dubbed a witch because she lives alone in a woodland croft outside of town. They believe she has magical powers, and though she does not, they are scared of her yet oddly fascinated too; as it turns out, their parents and elders begin to think Lori has more influence over making sick animals well than Andrew does after he puts down one pet too many. That's right, he orders Thomasina be destroyed after she is seriously injured and develops a tetanus infection.

Mary is distraught, holds a funeral for the cat and vows never to speak to her father again, claiming he is dead. This hints that the girl is not entirely over her mother's death, and has been pouring her love into her cat instead of her somewhat distant father, but Thomasina is not actually deceased. Lori finds the moggy and brings her back to health, after a bizarre interlude where the beast goes to cat heaven (very Egyptian) and decides it's not finished with Earth after all. Of course, a lot of problems would have been prevented if Lori had simply returned the cat to Mary and not kept it instead, a sticking point in the plot that is never satisfactorily resolved, but then we would not have had a dramatic, storm-lashed finale which throws an animal-abusing circus into the mix too. Neither entirely hardnosed sceptical or credulously gullible, the film retains an intelligent interest while still providing the requisite emotional thrills. Music by Paul J. Smith.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Don Chaffey  (1917 - 1990)

British director best known for directing fantasy favourites Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years B.C, both of which featured groundbreaking Ray Harryhausen effects. Chaffey also directed Hammer's Viking Queen, but much of his work was in television, both in the UK (The Prisoner, Man In a Suitcase) and, later, the US (Charlie's Angels, CHiPs, Airwolf). Also made kids' favourites Greyfriars Bobby and Pete's Dragon for Disney.

 
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